Photo: Nicole Parnis
The police are stopping African people from entering Marsa amid growing concerns about the town’s security, according to reports by African migrants who spoke to Lovin Malta.
Racial profiling was first flagged to this website by a tearful African man during a recent visit to the town, and now confirmed by two people representing the Somali and Eritrean communities in Malta.
“If an African who lives in Buġibba goes down to Marsa to meet a friend or go shopping, he will get stopped by police who will ask him why he has come to Marsa to go shopping instead of staying in Buġibba,” Somali national Abdul Hassan said. “As far as I know, Marsa is part of Malta like other towns and it isn’t a crime to go there. Nobody should control our movements.”
Concern over lawlessness in Marsa has grown in recent weeks, and hundreds of people took part in a solidarity walk yesterday morning aimed at bringing dignity back to the town.
African people have become increasingly scared to head down to Marsa
In the wake of increased police raids on Africans in Marsa, representatives from the Somali, Eritrean and Sudanese communities issued a joint press release to say the town’s social problems stem from years of neglect, but Africans nevertheless consider it to be their meeting point, “especially since in other social places we are not accepted”.
However, Hassan warned many Africans are now scared to go to Marsa out of fear for police brutality and, as a result, African businesses in the town are starting to feel the pinch from a loss of clientele.
“For example, police go to bars run by Africans in Marsa and demand they put their tables and chairs back inside,” he said. “Nobody dares ask them why this is the case because they’re scared asking questions could make them sound aggressive. Many of us don’t know the details of the law, so we find it very hard to challenge the police.”
This was corroborated by Eritrean national ‘Mahari’, who said the police are trying to keep all Africans who don’t live in Marsa out of the town entirely.
“Police stop us and ask us where we’re from – if we live in Msida, they tell us to stay in Msida. If we live in Ħamrun, they tell us to stay in Ħamrun. They tell us we’re not allowed to come to Marsa if we don’t live there.”
“They’re only doing this to Africans. If you’re black, then the police will stop you. They don’t do this to Europeans or even Arabs.”
Lovin Malta has sent questions to the police and to home affairs minister Michael Farrugia about these reports.
A nook for Muslim prayers at an African restaurant in Marsa
Two weeks ago, Lovin Malta visited Marsa to get an understanding of life inside the town. Although we only spent a few hours there, the situation was crystal clear – police raids targeting Africans have left a bitter taste amongst the communities.
At one point, we were at a bar opposite the parish church, sharing a beer with an Eritrean man who has lived in Malta for around a decade and speaking to him (in Maltese) about his experience as a migrant on the island.
“We don’t have many rights over here. If the police see a group of African people with just one person causing problems, they will arrest everybody,” the man nicknamed Isfar said. “They think all African people are the same, when in reality it’s usually the Somalis who create all the problems – inciting fights, selling drugs in Paceville and Valletta, and getting drunk on the streets of Marsa.”
“If the police see a group of African people with just one person causing problems, they will arrest everybody”
‘Isfar’, an Eritrean migrant
He also had a few words to say about how the Maltese media report crimes committed by Africans.
“When a Somali commits a crime, they report it as an African committing a crime but when a Serb commits a crime, they describe him as a Serb and not as a European,” he said.
Yet our conversation was stopped abruptly by three policemen, who suddenly entered the bar and started asking questions to the African bartender. The bartender didn’t seem ruffled by this scene and indeed was wiping glasses as she spoke to the police officers. The other clients didn’t seem too concerned either and just kept going about their usual business.
“It’s normal, they come in here all the time to ask for bar permits,” Isfar told me, and indeed the officers – after getting the bartender to call up the bar’s owner – left the scene as quickly as they arrived.
A police officer conducts a routine search at a bar in Marsa
Our next pitstop was the infamous Tiger Bar, a popular hangout for African people and recently the target of several police raids. It was not my first time at the bar, yet the mood was significantly more sombre this time round. Gone was the van selling cheap clothing and gone were the open-air barbecues serving spiced meat to passers-by, after a heavy clampdown by the police.
The mood was truly exemplified by a drunk Somali man, who approached us as soon as we arrived at the Tiger Bar and started speaking as soon as we told him we were journalists.
A Somali migrant recounted his experience with the police at the Tiger Bar in Marsa
“I have been living in Malta for 12 years now, without my family, but it’s hard to even find a full-time job,” he said, in a mixture of Maltese and English. “Whenever I get off the bus, the police pounce on me to ask for my documentation. I was stopped ten times last week alone. I was drinking a whiskey over here yesterday but then CID policemen came and began asking people for their documents. When they saw me drinking, they grabbed the glass out of my hand and spilled it onto the floor.”
At this point, the man began sobbing uncontrollably.
“Fucking Malta – qazzistni, qazzistni,” he said, upon which we asked him whether he can see any positives about living here or whether there is anywhere else in the world he would like to go.
His tearful response: “The cemetery”.